This One’s for Bob: The Sequel

IMG_7915Our friend, Bob, graduated from high school on Friday, June 27, 2014. That might not seem like such a big deal except, you see, Bob is 88 years old.

On the day he should’ve graduated, 70 years ago, he was otherwise engaged, fighting on behalf of America and her Allies in World War II.

Some of you will remember Bob from a couple of months ago, when he went on an Honor Flight to Washington, DC. Having read that story, you might’ve thought it would be impossible to top that day in May!

But, thanks to a man named Richard, Bob has experienced another day filled with honor and joy! Richard is the sheriff of an upstate New York county and may go down in history as the most thoughtful guy ever.

IMG_7912He is the person who accompanied Bob as his guardian on the Honor Flight and, on that day, he heard Bob mention that he had never graduated from high school because he had enlisted in the Navy.

Richard was familiar with a program called “Operation Recognition,” which authorizes school districts to grant a high school diploma to any honorably discharged veteran who served in the United States military during World War II, Korean Conflict or Vietnam War.

Richard contacted our school district and they enthusiastically agreed that Bob should graduate. They took care of everything and made Bob feel like the hero in his own fairy tale.

The highlights:

A solo walk down the aisle, leading in all graduates of the class of 2014.

IMG_7918 Not one, not two, but three standing ovations, as members of the audience spontaneously and repeatedly leapt to their feet to honor him.

IMG_7936 A gift from the class of 2014—a $500 donation, in Bob’s name, to the Honor Flight organization.

IMG_7948The presentation of the flag that flew over the U.S. Pentagon on the day of his Honor Flight trip.

IMG_7969 A medal representing his Navy occupation of aviation boatswain’s mate.

IMG_7966And, of course, his diploma.

The biggest highlight for those of us who accompanied Bob on his big day? His unalloyed pleasure at being recognized so generously and fully.

IMG_7916As we had dinner after the ceremony, we joked that this just proved that, if a person waits long enough, he can graduate without taking a test.

But, of course, we all know there was a test. A big test. A test that far exceeded any we ever face, those of us who stay home in our own country, safe and secure, and who finish high school on schedule.

It was a test that no amount of studying could’ve prepared those boys for, the ones who, like Bob, left school to defend their country in World War II.

And we are where we are today because they, as a fighting force, aced their exam. The boys who left school were the men who came home or, in so many cases, died even as they passed their test.

On Friday night, it was as if we honored them all, all those boys who sacrificed so much. It was the very least we could do, after all they did for us.

This One’s for Bob: An Honor Flight

IMG_7030The quiet of morning was disrupted by the sound of big, growling engines. Motorcycles and a sheriff’s jeep, headlights cutting the misty morning, descended on the house next door. A woman in a fluffy turquoise bathrobe looked on anxiously.

IMG_7033It sounds scary. It sounds threatening. But it brought delight and honor to the man who lives next door to us.

Our neighbor is Bob and he’s an 88-year-old veteran of Word War II. Today is his big day, to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to be feted and to visit the World War II Memorial. It is his tour of honor.

The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization, founded in 1995 to honor America’s veterans for their service and sacrifices. Veterans are transported to Washington, with volunteers who are committed to making the trip easy and stress-free. Every detail is attended to so that these men can travel safely and feel special at every turn.

At this stage, Honor Flight gives top priority to senior veterans–the surviving World War II veterans–as well as to veterans who are terminally ill. The veterans are taken to the memorial for the war in which they served. The long-term plan is to extend the honors to veterans of the Korean War and Vietnam War, as well.

But today is Bob’s day! Bob enlisted in the Navy when he was 17. He saw the world, for all its good and bad, he became a man, and he was lucky enough to come home. He made a critical contribution that all Americans benefit from every day.

He so deserves to be recognized and honored, and he was thrilled beyond measure for this big day. His wife, she of the fluffy turquoise bathrobe, said he hadn’t slept for two nights. He was outside early this morning, wearing his Honor Flight shirt, his Honor Flight jacket, and his Honor Flight ball cap. And a big grin!

And down the road, out here in the middle of nowhere, came three huge motorcycles and the big Jeep. The sheriff of a neighboring county will be Bob’s guardian for the day, committed to making the day easy and perfect. The motorcycle drivers are volunteers, providing the motorcade and the thrill of having a motorcade, because they believe in what they’re doing—they are veterans of combat themselves.

They arrived. They stood tall and saluted Bob and said, “Thank you for your service, sir.” Bob’s wife asked him if he had his Kleenex. She and I might’ve needed Kleenex, too.

They helped Bob into the car and revved their motors and whisked him off to meet other veterans in town, for ceremonies at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Then they’ll have a ceremony at the airport, before heading to Washington and a ceremony at the World War II Memorial.

They’ll be back tonight, returning to a welcoming ceremony at the airport. That’s a lot of ceremonies packed into one day and a lot of happy, exhausted men. Bob hasn’t slept for the last two nights but I bet he will tonight!

All Americans sleep more easily because of men like Bob.

We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.” Will Rogers